Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary (HMIC) has today published its legitimacy and leadership reports as part of the 2016-17 PEEL inspection programme. Today’s report by the inspectorate delivers, in general, a positive assessment of forces’ ability to keep individuals safe and reduce crime while acting with legitimacy and in providing effective leadership.
The legitimacy report includes the response to a commission by the Prime Minister, then Home Secretary, to examine the issue of police officers developing inappropriate relationships with victims of domestic abuse and vulnerable individuals. And in this area, its findings are shocking.
As the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service, I wish to reiterate that the vast majority of police officers and police staff, including PCSOs, conduct themselves, with the highest standards of integrity. The inspectorate highlights a number of positive stories of best practice that have developed within some police forces to address the issues related to abuse of authority and inappropriate relationships.
However, HMIC’s findings indicate that more is needed from the policing profession as a whole to demonstrate to the public, and to the perpetrators, that there is no place in policing for those who abuse their authority for sexual gain. Where these instances do occur it undermines justice, lets down the majority of decent, hardworking individuals serving in policing, and causes serious damage to the public’s confidence in the police.
While some progress has been made in tackling this issue, decisive action is needed to improve how forces detect and respond to this type of abuse where it occurs. Today I have written to both the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) and the College of Policing to set out the Government’s expectations and commission the further work needed to address the shortcomings HMIC has identified.
Code on professional boundaries and personal relationships
First, a clear message is required for all who serve in policing about the need for professional boundaries to be maintained and the importance of police officers and police staff not using their professional position to pursue inappropriate relationships with current or former victims, witnesses or suspects. There must be zero tolerance for those who overstep these boundaries and this change in culture is needed across all ranks and all aspects of policing.
The College of Policing are now looking at the feasibility of developing a new supplementary addendum to the code of ethics. The addendum would establish clear guidelines on professional boundaries and personal relationships to set out the expectations and requirements of all who serve in policing in maintaining appropriate relationships and responding to these issues where they occur. I have asked that the college further support this work by building this issue into training and other work on vulnerability.
National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) led work to produce a national strategy for dealing with corruption and abuse of authority for sexual gain
Secondly, there is need for the sector to be more consistent in how it identifies and responds to this wrongdoing, with a need for improved capability in many forces to proactively detect and deter police officers and staff acting in this way.
Work is already under way within the NPCC to establish a national strategy for dealing with abuse of authority for sexual gain and associated corruption which should be ready by the end of March 2017. The chair of the NPCC, Chief Constable Sara Thornton, will now ensure this strategy addresses the capability concerns that HMIC has identified, including systems and device monitoring, risk profiling and intelligence gathering to identify individuals who have used police databases or devices to seek out vulnerable people to establish sexual contact.
National consistency in recording and reporting
HMIC’s report indicates there is a shortcoming in how different forces define and report these offences leading to inconsistent understanding of the scale and handling of these matters.
Therefore as part of the national strategy, the NPCC will ensure this includes a consistent definition which clarifies how abuse of authority relates to corruption, and how policing should record and respond to these matters where they are identified.
Mandatory referral to the Independent Police Complaints Commission
Finally, we must ensure that the legislative framework is clear in setting out how these matters should be handled.
Abuse of authority for sexual gain constitutes serious corruption and should be referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission for consideration. However, as HMIC’s report makes clear, forces are not referring all such matters.
The Government therefore intend to bring forward changes to the Police (Complaints and Misconduct) Regulations 2012 to put beyond doubt that these matters must be referred automatically to the IPCC.
I am confident that these concrete measures will build on the recent steps taken by police forces across England and Wales to address these issues. There must be no doubt that further action and stronger leadership across all ranks is needed to prevent, identify and respond to the harm caused by those who abuse their position of authority.
The message must be unequivocal that those who do abuse their power for sexual gain have no place in policing.